Texas Travel

City Spotlight: Golden

By Peter Simek 2.3.21

Golden Texas might have been another frontier ghost town that sprang up with the arrival of the railroad and evaporated when rail eventually disappeared — but the little town proved it was worth keeping around. It has since been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show and is the hometown of a Nashville star (and the instances are unrelated).

To truly understand how an East Texas town of around 200 people punches so far above its weight, we have to go back to the beginning.

Timber and Railroad Ties

Although settlers began arriving in this corner of East Texas about seven miles northwest of Mineola as early as the mid-1860s, it wasn’t until the late 1870s, when a man named C.W. Tucker built a sawmill in the once thickly wooded region, that the town began to grow. In 1881, the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad was built through Golden, and the boom began. Golden grew as timber was cut and sold for railroad ties. Schools opened, a post office was established, and churches sprang up. In 1907, Golden even got its own bank, followed by a telephone and then a newspaper called The Golden Rule.

By 1914, Golden’s population reached a historic high of around 650, but it began to decline after World War I. During the Great Depression, out-of-work farm laborers flocked to the cities, and the population had diminished to around 250 by the start of World War II. After the war, the railroad tracks through Golden were abandoned, and the population continued its steady decline. It looked as if Golden would hardly last a century.

Kacey Musgraves Golden Texas
Kacey Musgraves. Photo by Alamy James Jeffrey Taylor

Rebirth and an Unexpected Spotlight

The 150 or 200 residents who remained in Golden, however, continued to raise their families and work their farms. In 1982, the town decided to celebrate its agrarian roots by establishing the first annual Golden Sweet Potato Festival. The attraction was a hit among locals and the news spread like wildfire.

Now, every fourth Saturday in October, visitors flock to East Texas to enjoy a taste of small-town life. There are competitive runs, livestock competitions, pageants, a horseshoe tournament, music, and dancing. In 2004, Oprah Winfrey highlighted the festival on her show after a friend sent her some Golden sweet potatoes — Oprah’s favorite food.

“I love sweet potatoes and I’m telling you it was pure heaven,” Winfrey said on her show. “They have found the purest, sweetest sweet potatoes, the best sweet potatoes I’ve ever had.”

Golden’s sweet potatoes have become so famous, in fact, that even since country star and Golden native Kacey Musgraves began touring with Willie Nelson and Lady A, she has still returned regularly to Golden to share the stage with the yam.

“It’s very kitschy, but it’s also kind of great,” Musgraves told Texas Monthly in 2013. “[Golden] is everything Nashville isn’t, in all the right ways.”

Find more nuggets like Golden here.

© 2021 Texas Farm Bureau Insurance